President George H.W. Bush forged a relationship with S’pore & Lee Kuan Yew
He was the first sitting US president to visit Singapore.
Former United States president George H.W. Bush died on Dec. 1, 2018 (Singapore time). He was 94 years old.
Tributes are pouring in from around the world for the 41st President.
Even before his one-term presidency that lasted from 1989 to 1993, Bush senior forged a relationship with Singapore and its leaders, especially the late Lee Kuan Yew.
Lee Kuan Yew’s memories of George H.W. Bush
In Lee’s From Third World to First memoir, he wrote that he first met Bush in 1981.
Bush senior was serving as vice-president then to president Ronald Reagan.
Lee said of Bush senior: “I knew him as an exceptionally warm and friendly man.”
Lee also said: “Our excellent relations did not change when he became president.”
Lee and Bush senior went jogging
In 1982, when Lee journeyed to America to meet with Reagan, Bush senior invited him to stay at Kennebunkport, Maine.
Bush was holidaying there for the summer.
Lee initially declined, as he intended to meet with his daughter Lee Wei Ling, who was then working in Boston.
But Bush invited her along as well, so father and daughter went up to Maine to stay with the Bush family.
Lee recalled going jogging together with Lee Wei Ling and Bush and his Secret Security detail, and talking freely about politics.
He also mentioned the hospitality shown by Bush’s wife Barbara, who made him feel welcomed.
Bush would later recall that mini-holiday together with Lee in his own words:
“When I needed sound advice on Asean matters or on Asia in general, I would turn to Lee Kuan Yew for advice. The man is a competitor, too. When he and his wife and daughter Ling came to visit Barbara and me in Maine, I recall going out for a jog.
When we returned to our home, I asked if he had felt like stopping towards the end of this excessively hot run. He nodded affirmatively after I confirmed I would have stopped; but he never would have initiated cutting it short. A lesson in grit and determination if there ever was one.”
Bush’s visit to Singapore
In 1985, Bush senior was present at Lee’s speech to the Joint Session of Congress, and can be seen shaking hands with him afterwards.
In January 1992, Bush senior became the first sitting US president to visit Singapore, where he met with then-PM Goh Chok Tong and Lee.
Bush’s son George W. Bush would later do the same in 2006 during his own presidency.
During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, following the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, America raised a coalition and sent military forces into Kuwait to free it from occupation.
Lee recalled how Singapore showed its support, by allowing US ships and aircraft to transit through Singapore and later sending a medical team to Saudi Arabia.
During this crucial period, Lee made a visit to Washington D.C. and discussed Middle Eastern affairs with Bush senior and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft.
Lee said he cautioned Bush senior to publicly support a “fair” solution for both Arabs and the Israelis, to demonstrate that it was not always on Israel’s side whether right or wrong.
Rocky relations with China
Bush senior also once used Lee as an intermediary between the US and China.
In 1992, he was under pressure from his own party over a range of issues related to China, such as trade, detaining Tiananmen Square protest leaders, and long-range missiles.
He needed some concessions from China in order to gather enough support to veto Congress’s resolution on withdrawing China’s Most Favoured Nation trading status.
Since President Yang Shangkun of China was going to visit Singapore, Bush senior asked Lee if he could pass a message asking Yang to release the prisoners in a show of conciliation.
However, Yang would inform Lee that this was unacceptable to China.
Bush senior would later lose his re-election campaign that same year.
Despite only serving as president for one term, Lee thought highly of him.
In his book One Man’s View of the World, in comparison to Bush senior’s eldest son and 43rd US president George W. Bush, Lee said:
“George Bush Senior is the more thoughtful man.”
Top image from Koh Beng Huat’s Facebook page